Recently I blogged about the place of the Bible (among other books) in society and while looking up this afternoon, I happened to notice the little red copy of the New Testament I was given back in elementary school. I remember a man coming by and standing at the front of the class, distributing them. I didn't know much about the Bible then, but the gift of a book impressed me. Evidently. Thirty-six years later, I still have it, which would mark it among my oldest personal possessions.
Sometime in my teenage years, I made the notation, above, of John 18:36. I had a look. It's where Pilate asks Jesus, "What is truth?".
A certain amount of patriotism was woven into the book. I suppose that's true wherever the Gideons distributed such materials to schools. God Save the Queen was a little bit anachronistic even then: in my school, they didn't teach us the words to it until her Silver Jubilee in 1977. As far as O Canada goes, the irony here is that when Parliament made it the official national anthem around 1980, they changed "O Canada! Glorious and free!" in the chorus to "God keep our land glorious and free".
My, we certainly did a lot of standing on guard for thee in the old version, too, didn't we? A couple of those bit the dust with the official 1980 version too.
Back when I was in elementary school, all the kids in the school (or pretty much all) took part in the Christmas pageant. When I was in grade three, my class had the project of telling the story of the Nativity from the Gospel of St. Luke. From that day to this, I can still recite Luke 2:1 word for word.
I have a number of religious books and books about religion. I'm not going to lie and say I've read them all, but I've read at least part of every one of them. The two here largely outside my own cultural experience, at the furthest left, are the Qur'an (given to me by a Trinidadian co-worker who'd converted to Catholicism) and The Book of Mormon, which I bought at second-hand store. Closer to home, culturally, from left to right, are two copies of the King James Version, one with the Apocrypha and the other the original 1611 text; The New American Bible, which is the standard translation now used for North American English-speaking Catholics; In the Beginning, which is a history of the King James Version and which I have read all the way through; another copy of The New American Bible, this one with the words of Jesus in red letter; a 1938 Roman Catholic Missal which belonged to my great aunt; the little red New Testament shown above; Olde Charlie Farquharson's Testament, which is a pun-filled revisioning of the Old Testament by Don Harron that I've loved since high school; The Lost Books of the Bible, a fascinating collection of holy writings from Christianity's earliest days that didn't make the cut when the canonical books were determined around the 4th century; and the copy of the Vulgate translation of the Bible , given to my parents as a wedding gift, back when that translation (from Latin, not sources) was used by English-speaking Catholics.
But anyway, I suppose the clear pearl here, for me, is the one I was given way back at the end of the 70s. It harkens back to another age, in a way. It's hard to imagine now anyone being allowed to proselytize in a Canadian public school. And I honestly don't know if they still have Christmas pageants anymore. I have warm memories of them, but that was then. As much as I look back on it with a glow, the idea of non-Christian kids being forced to choose between mouthing apostasy or self-ostracism isn't one I'm comfortable with. A sign of the times, I suppose.